Guatemala: Court ruling on Ríos Montt’s case highlights flaws in justice system
A Guatemalan court’s decision to try former Guatemalan President Efraín Ríos Montt on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity through a lawyer and behind closed doors opens a new avenue for justice but highlights the deep flaws of the country’s justice system, which has so far failed to bring justice to his victims, said Amnesty International.
The conditions of his trial were decided due to the 89-year-old former president’s fragile health, according to news reports. The trial is due to start in January 2016.
“Today’s ruling clearly shows that when justice is delayed for so long, there is a very high risk that those responsible for crimes such as mass killings and disappearances will be able to get away with it,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.
“If authorities in Guatemala would have dealt with the shocking catalogue of crimes committed under Ríos Montt’s rule as they should have, instead of repeatedly delaying the process, the country would not find itself in this situation.”
“The Guatemalan authorities must learn a valuable lesson and leave no stone unturned to ensure all those suspected of criminal responsibility for the thousands of brutal killings and disappearances that took place during the country’s darkest years face the courts. These delays have caused enough suffering. Victims and their relatives have the right to know what happened, see justice done and receive reparations.”
In 2013, Ríos Montt was sentenced to 80 years in prison on charges of crimes against humanity and genocide for his responsibility in the killing and torture of 1,771 Mayan-Ixil Indigenous people and the forced displacement of tens of thousands more when he was President and Commander-in-Chief of the Guatemalan Army (1982-1983).
In a move that was devastating for the victims, Guatemala’s Constitutional Court later overturned the verdict on procedural issues.
A UN-backed truth commission found that some 200,000 people were killed or disappeared during Guatemala’s 36-year civil war (1960-1996). More than 80% were Indigenous Maya.
Despite recent efforts to strengthen justice and accountability for past abuses, the army has refused to provide information to investigations into killings, enforced disappearances, rape and other crimes of sexual violence and other crimes committed during the conflict.
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